Educating teachers

Do teacher education programs produce better teachers? Congress has authorized a major study of teacher education, probably by the National Research Council. Education Week reports some resistance.

Some wonder if the data will be used for political purposes.

For example, Congress has asked teacher-preparation programs to tie their work to “scientific evidence,” an increasingly politicized term, said Karen Zumwaldt, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “That’s a hornet’s nest,” she said. “What is ‘scientific evidence’ and how is it applied? Should that be the sole basis for educational decisions?”

Yes.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Wacky Hermit says:

    OK, I’m a discrete-math person, so I admit to some ignorance about statistics; it’s not my field. But I’m pretty damn sure that we have spent the last 50-100 years developing standards for research in social sciences, and these standards are largely statistical in nature, which means they have mathematical proofs backing them up. Why is there any debate over what constitutes “scientific evidence”? Pardon my ignorance.

  2. Define ‘evidence.’

  3. aschoolyardblogger says:

    I was lucky? to attend a national presentation of grant funded mathematics professional development programs. If you had been with me, you would understand the word evidence in this article. Some people think research and development means trying out some idea with nothing to back up its validity, a couple of teachers certifying that it was fun, and then finishing with a party. There seemed to be little accountability in any area other than budget. It is a good thing someone is even talking about looking into it. The way it is now, it can be a very cushy job where the product needs no meaning.

  4. Mad Scientist says:

    As a trained scientist (I have a degree in Science; my title at work is Engineering Scientist) I would agree that the term “evidence” is largely misused.

    Statistics can only *suggest* that something is correlatable with something else, and correlation does not imply causation (e.g. storks versus live births).

    Evidence requires real, hard, verifiable data that is not dependent upon someone’s interpretation.

    Temperature, pressure, velocity, acceleration, etc. are variables that can describe the state of a system.

    A theory is how these relate to one another.

    Evidence is showing experimentally that the supposed relationship actually holds.

    Statistice are used when there are uncontrolled variables (i.e., wind direction), variables are uncontrollable (in a drug trial, not all subjects are identical), or to generate mathematical models that relate variables to outputs (correlating household income to student performance).

  5. “Scientific evidence” is whatever the current administration deems it to be.

  6. Kirk Parker says:

    > ” Should that be the sole basis for educational decisions?”
    >
    > Yes

    Sorry guys, much as I like Joanne and generally find her point of view quite congenial, this particular rejoinder is just plain wrong.

    To demand scientific proof for every educational decision is a recipe for impasse, and quite unaffordable too. Now, if you just meant that it should require scientific proof before the Federal Government can interfere in education, well enough–except that this is unnecessary as the FedGov has hardly any legitimate role there anyway.

  7. Kirk Parker says:

    > ” Should that be the sole basis for educational decisions?”
    >
    > Yes

    Sorry guys, much as I like Joanne and generally find her point of view quite congenial, this particular rejoinder is just plain wrong.

    To demand scientific proof for every educational decision is a recipe for impasse, and quite unaffordable too. Now, if you just meant that it should require scientific proof before the Federal Government can interfere in education, well enough–except that this is unnecessary as the FedGov has hardly any legitimate role there anyway.

  8. The variables are too many for scientific evidence to be the only method for evaluating teachers. With scientific evidence, it can be shown that an inexperienced English teacher in an honors program can outperform a veteran English teacher with a class of recent immigrants most of the time. Would that be a good example of scientific evidence? Maybe. Would that scientific evidence be suspect? Yes.

    Scientific evidence can back up almost anything. What’s needed is good science, and I haven’t seen much (in actual use or proposed) in regard to teacher evaluations.

  9. Bill Beeman says:

    Joanne hit the nail on the head. What we have been doing is making decisions that have a profound impact our children’s education nothing more than whim and fashion among educrats.

    What in the world is wrong with demanding some objective evidence before rushing to discard what we know works in favor of something that may well be a disaster? We threw out phonics and produced several generations that do not read or spell well; we have produced generations that can’t make change or deal with simple fractions in the name of the “new” math.

    Feeling has replaced learning, and we are all paying the price.

    I’m hardly a fan of what our Congress has been up to lately, but this one is right on the mark.

  10. As a veteran teacher I have read, listened to, many a so called scientific study of the latest edu-fad. I often wondered (even when I was a rookie and didn’t seem to know better) that educrats were re-inventing the wheel, over and over and over again, not seeing what was right in front of their collective noses, that some things work in the classroom, some things don’t.
    With variables that are easy to control, ie. pressure vs. volume etc. an outcome can be measured. Its effects can be dramatically demonstrated, ie too much pressure and boom!
    But when we study people and the techniques people use, it gets harder. Test scores are one way to measure effectiveness; Teach a certain subject, say 2 + 2 =4 and 98 out of 100 students get it correct on a test then I would say you have measured something.
    If 88 students out of 100 can define, say, photosynthesis and explain the process that could be measured.
    Spelling, punctuation, grammar, subtraction, addition, people in history books, major events in history, are examples of measureable events.
    Students writing evaluations of events (why, what do you think, what would happen etc.) would be difficult, but not impossible, if standards were set.
    The one trouble I have, is when I read Dept. of Ed standards. The goobledegook and double speak make it almost impossible to figure out what to measure. Maybe that is on purpose? Who knows.

  11. Kirk: “To demand scientific proof for every educational decision is a recipe for impasse, and quite unaffordable too.” Well, let’s see. We have an impasse now. As for affordability, no, realistically we must make some decisions with incomplete information. But we can’t afford not improving things. At least we can throw out things that don’t work. This country is going to feel the negative effects of public education problems for decades.

    Jon: “What’s needed is good science, and I haven’t seen much (in actual use or proposed) in regard to teacher evaluations.” I’m realy uneasy with the phrase “good science”. That implies “science” can be either good or bad. We have to say there’s science (valid and replicated) or there’s junk science/pseudoscience/nonsense/crap. To speak to your example, two teachers isn’t anywhere near enough data, so that isn’t science yet.

    So what we need is science. We don’t have enough of it.

  12. Oh, and Zumwaldt’s “hornet’s nest”: I’m sure that’s what it would be! It would expose all the worthless theories and programs she and others have advocated and put into practice!

  13. Richard Cook says:

    What’s that old rubric concerning stats? “Statistics are like lamposts for a drunk; great for support but not so good for illumination” Or something like that.

  14. Kirk Parker says:

    Jim,

    I should have been clearer. Sure, we have impasse now, and too much demand for science will do nothing be reinforce that. Here’s the problem: impasse leads to just staying with the status quo, which is quite awful in many places. I think the real solution is to devolve the authority for education back to the states and local communities where it belongs. Not every one of them will get it right, but at least people will be able to vote with their feet. Plus, the small-scale nature of the individual components may make it more likely that we can see what works and what doesn’t.

  15. In any field, there are two basic ways of doing things:
    1)tradition-based
    2)rationalized; ie, based on systematic research and analysis

    For example, ships used by be designed based on the accumulated experience of the trade, which might say that if you don’t want the ship to break in half on a wave, the ratio of beam to length had better be at least “x”. This has now been supplanted by mathematical modelling, detailed research into properties of materials, etc.

    There are values in both the tradition-based approaches and the rationalized approach. But there is rarely a defense for abandoning tradition *without* putting rationalized, science-based methods in its place.

    Suppose that there was a ship designer who had utter contempt for traditional methods–but who also refused to learn the math required for the modern methods. He makes design decisions based purely on his feelings about what might work, and on anecdotes he has heard from somewhere or other.

    Would you sail on this man’s ships? I wouldn’t.

    Isn’t this what the “educators” have done?..to abandon traditional methods that worked at least to some degree, but without the hard work of analysis that would be required if you really wanted to improve them?

  16. D. Cooper says:

    Some of those traditional methods were abandoned because they relied to some degree on an effort from students who knew or were made aware of the value of an education (usually by their parents). Now we have to invent new ways to teach the same material but without the same student effort and support from home. Just send them on in, and we’ll perform the magic… sort of like trying to find a way to make water boil at a lower temperature. No one likes to admit to that side of the equation because of the implications.

  17. “…a way to make water boil at a lower temperature.”

    It’s easy and fun! Just draw a vacuum and watch it boil, right at room temperature.

    (Off-topic, but I couldn’t resist)

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    The answer to decreased student effort is to keep the same standards and cut out the showbiz, artsy-craftsy crap which takes up hours preparing for some verb game.
    Then tell the parents whose kids flunk due to lack of work to take a hike.
    Unfortunately, at this point, that is not being done.
    Too bad.

  19. When are we going to demand that teachers abandon this ludicrous idea that they have an obligation to ‘amuse’ and ‘entertain’ students? I agree with Richard: cut out all the “showbiz, artsy-craftsy crap which takes up hours preparing for some verb game”.

    But then, I suspect that’s WHY a lot of people go into teaching: they actually LIKE doing all that artsy-craftsy crap instead of teaching.

    Believe it or not, it is genuinely possible to teach (and for children to learn) using nothing more than a blackboard and chalk, or even marks in the dirt. The difference is the focus on what’s happening in the children’s heads versus the current focus on amusing and entertaining them that passes for ‘education’ in this country.

    Plus, kids have extremely sensitive ‘bullshit detectors’, and most of them know that they’re being conned by the current educational establishment.

  20. This may be so if you are home schooling your child or you’re in an underdeveloped country, but it demonstrates how little you know about trying to teach 28 inner-city teenagers whose parents have not engendered any love of or even duty to learn into them and the government does not allow you to do more than mildly verbally chastise them. Don’t denigrate teachers like this unless you’ve been there and done it.

  21. I hate *artsy-craftsy crap* — that’s why I’m at the secondary level. BTW, yeah, they’re so freakin’ aware of the con that they don’t do any homework, getting us back by not learning what little we’re actually trying to teach. That’ll show me!

    When, oh when, am I going to abandon the fantasy that students are going to come to school, exhibit the most basic of manners, and do their homework?

  22. D. Cooper says:

    ……When are we going to demand that teachers abandon this ludicrous idea that they have an obligation to ‘amuse’ and ‘entertain’ students?

    I’ll tell you when …. when students realize that they’re in school to be educated, and not there to be ‘entertained’ and ‘amused’. When they realize that ‘we’ are not there to compete with the last TV show they’ve been glued to!! Education can be fun, but it is also serious hard work!!